by Milo Clark
"Alone I wander a thousand miles and I ask my way from the white clouds."
(Swans - July 3, 2006) Okay, any Buddhists worth their salt know that saying My Buddha is showing a somewhat unusual understanding of Gautama Buddha's teachings, at least as I am aware of them. Personal ignorance aside, of course. Impermanence being what it is, naturally.
I come by what I know as Buddhism starting in the late 1960s with Lama Anagarika Govinda (Sanskrit) or Anangavajra Khamsum-Wangchuk (Anglicized Tibetan) -- born Ernst Lothar Hoffman, 1898. Died 1985.
Right there I am in trouble with a number of others professing Buddhism, some of whom see the Tibetans as stark-raving-mad Buddhists if Buddhists at all.
I'll be up front: Tibetans are my kind of Buddhists. Strip away all the fancy stuffs and I am at home.
Lama Govinda was not a real Tibetan anyhow. He was born in Germany and snuck up on Buddhism after trekking through Rome (pursuing architectural history, tumuli, etc.) and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). There he did the work to become a Theravadan monk.
Theravadans may be the Episcopalians of Buddhism: very conservative folks who insist on Pali as the proper language for Buddhists rather than Sanskrit and certainly never Tibetan.
Then the future Lama Govinda met some Tibetans at a meeting in Darjeeling (1931) and lost it or gained it, depending on perspective. Initiated a Galugpa, not only did he lose it in conventional terms but he eventually moved a step forward and began to focus on Maitreya, the coming Buddha of this age (next after Gautama or Shakyamuni). Early in the 1930s, he formed Arya Maitreya Mandala as his ashram or organization or whatever. It still exists in Germany, Hungary, Rumania, and Eastern Europe, although not very friendly these days.
Lama Govinda went on to write scholarly books primarily about or as seen through Tibetan forms of Buddhism. As a Westerner, he was able to add dimensions to Buddhism through his writings. He dove into the intricacies of Tibetan forms and unraveled them in a thoroughly thorough Germanic way. He can, however, be remarkably clear and insightful, especially about how Buddhism will acclimate itself to Western perspectives.
I first knew him as a very powerful, although ill, and quite tiny man who could literally shake a decent sized building with his chants. One very impressive guy! Got my attention.
What makes the Tibetans stark-raving-mad Buddhists? As most religions do, Buddhism, when introduced to Tibet, quickly incorporated the indigenous forms, Bon. Today, we look back to the ancient Bon-po practices which, when incorporated in Tibet's Buddhisms, add the magnificent and very elaborate practices, rituals, chants, costumes, and dances, etc., characterizing the four or more Tibetan sects of today. Centuries of isolation, deep traditions, and wretched winters gave them immense time to perfect their marvels.
Bon people still go around Kailas, the western Tibet mountain sacred to both Hindus and Buddhists, from right to left while latter day Buddhists (and Hindus) go around Kailas left to right. In passing, they meet and nod politely while keeping proper distances. However approached, the circuit is a grueling hike in extreme conditions. Uma Thurman's father went there and wrote a book about his experiences.
My Buddhism is something quite personal in its universal aspects. For me, there is life in everything, absolutely everything, with no qualifications other than form. The life in this rock differs only from the rock in that mountain by degree of sensation. A valid question is: mine or the rock's? Don't worry about it, though. This perspective is not animism but it would take a wealth of explaining and show and tell to get the point through to most folks.
The core of my Buddhism is simple and direct although often dandied up as The Four Noble Truths. Ignorance leads to suffering. Buddhism shows the causes, primarily ignorance, and names the effects as suffering. It shows the ways out of ignorance and, therefore, out of suffering.
For simplicity's sale, maybe all that anyone needs to know is that Gautama focuses on wisdom and compassion while Maitreya concentrates around loving kindness.
To get to my Buddhism, I had to peel away layer upon layer upon layer of conditioned pseudo-understandings gained through living in the fantasy worlds of Western mind. Leaves me a bit of a split personality as here I am writing in Western mind.
Lama Govinda says we live in an animated cosmos, not a material world. In this animated cosmos, everything is worshipful to the same, if not greater degree, than most other folks hold or worship as God.
The core of Buddhism insists that there is not a separated entity or ethereal form that can be labeled as God. Gautama Buddha, as he became in enlightenment, was an otherwise ordinary man given extraordinary circumstances. Although brought up in a very protected way, when he saw suffering, disease, and death he soon abandoned that life and sought to encounter actualities as they are. He found that extreme asceticism was not the answer, as little else in life form existed ascetically. Why try to be special? Particularly by punishing yourself.
The 14th Dalai Lama, now a well-known world figure, always insists that he is just an ordinary monk living in a somewhat extraordinary ways and times.
With all forces and forms of nature being emanations of divine powers, we shed concepts and differentiations such as animal, vegetable, and mineral to celebrate our participations within the animated cosmos.
Within the animated cosmos, very much integrated with it, according to D. H. Lawrence (quoted by Lama Govinda) there exists a vast old religion, greater than anything we know. There is no god, no conception of a god, All is god but not the pantheism seen as God is everywhere, God is in everything. Within the old religions, everything is alive, not supernaturally alive but naturally alive. Abundant life is natural.
In this view, life is a full court press of vitalities. Gautama Buddha knew this actuality and his life story is populated with nature beings, nagas, and such who took care of things and kept order.
Living in the rainforest of untourist Hawaii makes it easier to stay with My Buddha. I can, in Lawrence's conception, be within sheer naked contact, without intermediary or mediator. I'll hold to this actuality as the core of my being. No temples or priests or lamas, et al. needed. Active inaction in action. Very zen, too.
Here is My Buddha!
What do you think?
Or, should I say, know?
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